The number is $2,343,750.
That is what will remain on the Canadiens’ books for the next two seasons in dead money, and it is also what will be added to the Detroit Red Wings’ salary cap calculation to have Jeff Petry on their blue line.
But for the Canadiens, that number means more than that. It also represents the final piece of a complicated salary cap puzzle the Canadiens have been working on all offseason to get them to a certain promised land, which is the ability to enter the season with Carey Price’s $10.5 million cap charge on the roster.
By shipping out Mike Hoffman, Rem Pitlick, half of Joel Edmundson’s salary and that $2,343,750 of Petry’s remaining salary, Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes feels he has reached that promised land, something he has been shooting for since taking the job last January. The process actually began last summer when Hughes traded Shea Weber’s contract to the Vegas Golden Knights for Evgenii Dadonov, but he appears to have arrived at the end of that long journey when he completed the trade Tuesday that sent a severely discounted Petry to the Detroit Red Wings for defenceman Gustav Lindström and a fourth-round draft pick in 2025.
The trade will allow the Canadiens to begin the season with Price on the books, and then put him on long-term injured reserve as soon as the roster deadline passes to begin the season.
“LTI isn’t a perfect situation for any team,” Hughes said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “I know some people think it’s simple and you just use the money that player’s salary occupied, but it’s a little more complicated. Having said that, if we find opportunities again, like we did last time with Sean Monahan, where we think it’s worthwhile, we’ll do it and put ourselves in offseason LTI.
“But we think, as of right now, we’re safe to go in-season with Carey.”
Why is this important? It’s complicated, as Hughes mentioned. I have spent far too much of my time and energy trying to understand it properly ever since the 2021 season ended, and I still don’t think I’m entirely there. But the essential difference between offseason and in-season LTIR can be simplified to one basic concept, and that is flexibility.
With offseason LTIR, the Canadiens get locked into a cap number, and that number essentially means zero cap space. It’s almost like Price’s cap number just disappears, with all that’s left behind is the Canadiens having little to no cap space. With in-season LTIR, the Canadiens would make it so they are as close to the cap as possible when they designate Price, and then they would have Price’s $10.5 million in salary minus how much cap space they had when he was placed on LTIR as cap space to use during the season.
Simple enough? Didn’t think so.
Again, if you want the simplified version, think of it in terms of taking the path with more flexibility built in and avoiding the path that is more rigid and restrictive.
Except as of right now, the Canadiens are over the $83.5 million salary cap with Price on the roster. But what’s important to remember is they have six players who are exempt from waivers: Juraj Slafkovský, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron and Jordan Harris. That means the Canadiens can send some of those players down to the AHL on paper in order to file their roster to the league and make it cap-compliant, and then bring them back up once Price has been placed on LTIR.
“With that aspect, and a couple of things I can’t talk about, we think we’ll be able to avoid putting Carey on offseason LTI,” Hughes said.
Hughes was definitely hinting at another trade or two to clear up some more space.
One might be trading goaltender Casey DeSmith, who was acquired along with Petry, Nathan Légaré and a second-round draft pick, and his $1.8 million cap hit. Hughes confirmed that is what he will try to do, but there’s no guarantee it will happen before the beginning of the season.
“I told Casey to be patient,” Hughes said. “The idea is not to bury him in the AHL, so we’ll continue looking at opportunities to either trade him or maybe change a few things, but it might take some time because the goalie market doesn’t move very quickly.”
But even without trading DeSmith, there are ways for the Canadiens to use Laval and their waiver-exempt players to get to a cap-compliant roster with Price included, which is something that seemed impossible before Hughes traded Weber a little over a year ago. And that is the big benefit of the trade Hughes made Tuesday.
But it’s not the only one.
It also marks the second time Hughes has done right by Petry in trading him to a desired location. First it was Pittsburgh, which netted the Canadiens Michael Matheson, their No. 1 defenceman, and now it’s Detroit, Petry’s hometown and summer home.
Hughes called Petry right after acquiring him to give him the assurance that he would make this second trade happen as soon as he could. And he said he hopes players around the league notice that, and that ultimately it makes Montreal a more desirable place to play.
“I gave him my word, I said listen, we saw an opportunity here to facilitate a trade between Pittsburgh and San Jose and help ourselves, but we’re mindful that you’ve got a family and your own career and Montreal’s probably not the place you’re expecting to play,” Hughes said. “So I promised him we would work expeditiously to get him moved and we wouldn’t drag this out trying to maximize every last piece of value in the trade. It probably took a little longer than we anticipated, but I spoke with Jeff again and he was thankful.”
The downside to the deal is the second year of salary retention on Petry’s contract, which runs through 2024-25. One of the reasons the Canadiens didn’t want to buy out the final year of Hoffman’s contract was having to carry the cap charge in 2024-25, which is exactly what he is doing now with Petry.
“In a perfect world, we don’t do it,” Hughes said. “But we did look at where we expect to be in terms of what we will have in terms of financial commitments going into the 24-25 season, what’s coming off the books and the fact that we expect there to be a move in the cap. Listen, we’re going to continue to try and push and improve our team every year and we want to be intelligent about how we spend our dollars.
“But as we discussed it, we found it would be difficult to spend all the money intelligently with players that could grow with us, and that ultimately, being able to acquire a second, a fourth, a prospect and a young D and a goalie, that was probably worth the 2.3 (million) and change we’re going to assume against the cap next season.”
That young defenceman is Lindström, who turns 25 in October and hasn’t shown a whole lot of the promise that led to the Red Wings drafting him with the No. 38 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s a right-shot, and a big body, but the Canadiens see some untapped potential there they hope to unearth. Johnathan Kovacevic was also 25 when the Canadiens plucked him off waivers last fall, and he’s thrived under their coaching, so we’ll have to wait and see. But the Canadiens see a plus-defender who plays a strong neutral zone game, both in transition and in terms of his gaps defending.
“Our pro guys like him, they feel he’s a smart, puck-moving defenceman that still has a lot of room to grow in his game,” Hughes said. “I think the number they threw out was he is at about 70 percent of what they believe his potential is. He’s a Swedish player and Detroit’s had a lot of success in that country over the years drafting-wise, so we’re hopeful that Gustav can come and add an element to our team, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Ultimately though, Lindström doesn’t need to hit for this series of moves to be a success. If he does, great. If not, going back to the beginning of this trade tree, the Canadiens essentially added Matheson, a second-round and fourth-round draft pick, unloaded Hoffman and Rem Pitlick and, perhaps most importantly, got their finances to a much more manageable place.
A few weeks after taking the job in January of 2022, Hughes noted his priority was to create cap space and shed some of the long-term contracts that were handcuffing the team.
“I think in today’s game,” Hughes said then, “money’s everything.”
For a second offseason in a row, Hughes has proven he meant what he said.
(Photo of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)